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Rejected by Mexico, Caymans over virus fears, cruise ship docks in Mexico

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Mexico City (AFP)

A cruise ship turned away from Jamaica and the Cayman Islands after a crew member tested positive for flu has docked in Mexico and passengers will be allowed to disembark as long as "health standards" are met, the country's president said Thursday.

President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador told reporters that the Meraviglia, which has been anchored off Cozumel island in the Caribbean since Wednesday, "is being allowed to dock" and those aboard may be allowed off.

"We cannot act inhumanely. Imagine the desperation," he said, referring to the 6,000 people aboard.

The operator, MSC Cruises, lashed out at authorities for refusing to allow it to dock at its previous destinations for "acting out of fears" over the new coronavirus. A crew member was being treated for seasonal flu.

Carlos Joaquin, governor of Quintana Roo state which includes Cozumel, said the passengers and crew would be examined by doctors "who will verify the health issues on board."

"If there is a risk to health there will be no authorization for disembarkation," he added.

Quintana Roo Health Secretary Alejandra Aguirre said two people -- a 27-year-old Filipino crew member and a 13-year-old French girl -- had shown signs of a respiratory infection that was unrelated to the new coronavirus which countries around the world are battling to contain.

"There are no coronavirus cases aboard the cruise ship," she said, adding that tests were being conducted to find out the nature of the respiratory infection.

A final diagnosis was expected at 10:00 pm (0400 GMT) after which the port's captain will have the final say on whether or not the passengers can disembark, Aguirre said.

- Rejected by Jamaica, Caymans -

A handful of people wearing masks took part in a protest at the dock on Wednesday, one man shouting: "We don't want the virus in Cozumel."

Coronavirus has hit more than 45 countries and killed more than 2,700 people of the 81,000 infected, the vast majority in China.

The first case of coronavirus recorded in Latin America was confirmed in Brazil on Wednesday. Mexico's health ministry said it was analyzing a possible case in Mexico City.

The Cayman Islands and Jamaica had refused to allow the ship to dock over the coronavirus fears.

The cruise firm said it was "extremely disappointed" that Jamaican authorities delayed a decision to give the ship clearance despite having been provided with medical records.

It said Grand Cayman authorities had also turned the Meraviglia away "without even reviewing the ship's medical records."

"In both instances, the ship was effectively turned away simply based on fears," MSC said.

"No other cases of type A influenza have been reported on board MSC Meraviglia. Moreover, no cases of COVID-19 virus have been reported on board MSC Meraviglia or any other ship in MSC Cruises' fleet," added the company, referring to the new coronavirus.

The situation recalled the US cruise ship Westerdam, which was at sea for two weeks after it was rejected by five countries over fears its passengers could be carrying the new coronavirus.

It was finally allowed to dock in Cambodia.

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